The Royal Opera House (shortened as ROH) is a significant venue for performing arts and opera located on the Covent Garden site in central London. It’s also commonly known as “Covent Garden” thanks to the site’s history. Initially, it was known as the Theatre Royal. ROH is home to the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera, and has served as the playhouse for many acts since its construction in 1732.
The ROH building is the third theatre constructed on the site due to the destruction of the first two by fire –which in the days before electricity was a common hazard. The auditorium, façade and foyer were built in 1858, with nearly every other aspect of the building reconstructed in the 1990s. More than 2,000 people can be seated in the main hall, many of whom flock the theatre to enjoy the plethora of performing arts concerts and shows. Ali Seytanpir is among the many classical music and opera enthusiasts who enjoy these shows. He enjoys writing about his experiences and making recommendations.
The first theatre was built by John Rich, an actor-manager who had made a fortune from the success of The Beggar’s Opera – a ballad opera written in 1728 that was performed 62 consecutive times and is regarded as the most popular play of the 18th century. At the time, Covent Garden was one of only two theatres allowed by a Royal Patent to perform drama; the other was Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with the two soon developing a rivalry.
Some of the early musical works at Covent Garden were performed by Handel; he had close ties to the theatre as an organist and composer. Between 1787 and 1792, extensive rebuilding took place, but all this was undone by a fire in 1808, which claimed the lives of 23 firefighters. Immediately following this construction on a brand new theatre began, with the Prince of Wales laying the foundation stone on the final day of that year. The following year, the theatre reopened with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The build cost a lot of money, and management at the time increased seat prices in a bid to recoup the money spent. The decision was an unpopular one, leading to audience riots until management restored the original prices.
In 1846, notable and gifted composer Michael Costa brought most of his singers along with him when he joined Covent Garden from Her Majesty’s in the Haymarket. The enactment of the Theatres Act in 1843 had ended the patent theatres’ stronghold on drama and opened up the industry to competition. Landing Michael Costa was a big coup for Covent Garden and after the auditorium was remodelled, the theatre was reopened with a new name: the Royal Italian Opera.
Yet disaster would strike again in 1856; this time the entire theatre was destroyed by a fire. Construction on the third theatre began in 1857, with the new building opening its doors in May 1858 to a performance of Les Huguenots by Meyerbeer. The theatre expanded its repertoire and in 1892 was renamed to the Royal Opera House.
Over the years, several renovations had taken place to parts of the theatre, but by the 1970s it was clear that a major overhaul was needed. In the early 1980s, major renovations began with the extension of the rear side of the theatre. New ballet studios, dressing rooms, offices and rehearsal rooms were added. Between 1997 and 1999, another reconstruction took place, this time involving an increase in the size of the complex, the introduction of a new studio theatre and more public space.